Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Summer Reading in a Room of One's Own

Summer is the time I read, read, read anything I can get my hands on - usually fiction (murder mysteries) and sometimes a biography or a theological text.

This summer I have lots of time on my hands. The church I have served for the past seven years closed on May 26th. I'm supplying for Sunday services and a few hours of pastoral availability at various other churches and the rest of my time is free. Well, free to be looking for another position in which to serve God and the people of God as a priest in The Episcopal Church.

It may be a symptom of my feeling at loose ends because of having no job - I'll have to check this out with my shrink! - or a need to be connected, in the way serving a parish kept me connected to other humans, but instead of reading a book a day (yes, I usually read a book a day when I am on vacation), I spend time on Facebook. And instead of writing, I spend time on Facebook.

However, summertime also turns my mind to Virginia Woolf, the writer, probably because it was during a summer vacation I read straight through five of her books. Right now, in short bursts while my tea water is coming to a boil, I'm reading a book nominally about Virginia Woolf, but really about her social milieu, using the houses and estates of her family and acquaintances as the framework. It's called Ancestral Houses: Virginia Woolf and the Aristocracy, by Sonya Rudikoff, who died shortly after it was finished.

It is not a biography. Instead of photos of people, there are plates of 12 castles, manors and cottages where Virginia stayed, or which she would have known about, or which belonged to people she knew or to whom she was related. So, for instance, I know from the book more about Violet Dickinson, or about Orchardleigh House in Frome, Somerset, the family house of the Duckworths, than I learn about Virginia herself.

In fact, this is a biography of a time, a particular time, through a particular set of people in that time, in particular sets of places in that time. It is a romantic sort of piece of non-fiction. Indeed, one of the chapters is titled "The Romance of the Aristocracy"; another is called "Gardens Where the Peacock Strays", this last title having been taken from a poem by W.B. Yeats, "Ancestral Houses", which Rudikoff took for her book's title.

This is not deep reading. It is pleasant reading, if you like this sort of thing, which I do. It gives me the enjoyment of seeing one of my literary heroes through different lenses, and to read of some of the places and people Woolf knew which found their way into her works of fiction.

When I finish this, I shall return to three of my favorites of Virginia Woolf's works: A Room of One's Own, To the Lighthouse, and Mrs. Dalloway. And I may also revisit the works of Jeannette Winterson, some of which seem to me to pay homage to the works of Woolf.

And I will not forget to season it all with a murder mystery or two or four or more!

[Note: The photo above, "Untitled", is from the series "A room of one's own" and is the property of Lois Keen alone.]


Danny Cutting said...

LOVE all the VW. Books you love! I think my favorite might be The is so vivid that I really am able to lose myself in it ....and feel as if I am completely at home with Mrs dalloway too! Must be my Englishness...and perhaps a certain longing to be a part of those heady and very "society" days! I think I must try the book you suggest too. Always did love your reading choices Lois!

Danny Cutting said...

I left a long comment which seems to have been lost due to having to sign in AFTER making the comment! The gist was I love your choices of summer reading Dalloway and Lighthouse...feel I was almost once a part of all of that which VW wrote about so exquisitely. Now I must find the new book you are reading...sounds fascinating!